Richard Deacon

rdeacon2.jpg (35914 bytes)From "the Voice of the People" Reminiscences of Prince Albert Settlement's Early Citizens pages 81-88
----- Captain Richard Deacon ----- (1850 -1935)
This pioneer settler of Manitoba and Saskatchewan had an adventurous life. While a youth in Montreal, he became a volunteer in repressing the Fenian raids. At the age of 21, he joined General Wolseley's volunteers to suppress the first Riel Rebellion. When the soldiers disbanded, he, like many of the volunteers took up land in Manitoba and began a goldsmith's business in Winnipeg. Captain Deacon's narrative extends beyond the town limits of Prince Albert. These words originated from a man who never hesitated to speak his mind. While quite a young man in my home town of Montreal I enlisted with the Red River Expeditionary Force, May 6, 1870, and left with a detachment for Toronto, where the forces were assembled. Here we spent a month in training and about the tenth of June our detachment was entrained for Owen Sound, there going by steam boat to Thunder Bay, now Port Arthur. From here the journey to Fort Garry was by way of lakes and rivers. Arriving at Fort Garry in September,1870 we wintered in the Lower Fort and were disbanded in March, '71. In common with a number of mechanics of the battalion, I was supplied by the government with a kit of tools, on condition that we remain in Manitoba for three years to work at our various trades. I started in the watch making and jewelry business on Main Street. At that time in Winnipeg there were the stores of the Hudson's Bay Co. at Fort Garry. On Main Street there were the general stores of Higgins, Jangereau, Lyons and Bannatyne; R. Deacon's watchmaking business; Mat Davis' blacksmith shop; T. Lusted, carriagemaker; Archibald Wright, saddler; J. H. Ashdown, tinsmith two drugstores kept by Wm. O'Donnell and Bird - with a saloon almost every corner and certainly in the centre of every block. The spiritual needs of the town were administered to by the Methodist church in charge of the Rev. Geo. Young and the Presbyterian mission church under the supervision of the Rev. Wm. Black of old Kildonan fame. In the spring of '71 the first fire brigade was organized, with Captain Scandless and Lieut. (and treasurer) R. Deacon. Our uniform red shirts, black pants with gold stripes, peaked glazed caps imported from St. Paul. On May 24th, we staged sports on the village green and arranged a dance for the evening. Our country friends, having returned home, we had to carry out our dance with only two girls, Miss Crosson, who afterwards became Mrs. J. H. Ashdown and Miss Louise Miller, afterwards well known in Prince Albert as Mrs. Eddie McBeath. Although city born and bred, I felt the call of the great out of doors in this land of the setting sun and giving up my business to Geo. Northgraves I took up farming at Rockwood, about a mile and a half from the site of the Stoney Mountain Penitentiary. In September '71 I was married to Mary McBeath, daughter of a well-known Kildonan family. It was not long after this when the McBeath family migrated to the banks of the Saskatchewan and hearing glowing accounts of the climate and the soil of this great north land, I, too, got the western fever and made preparations to trek for Prince Albert. Starting in September, '76 we were accompanied by J. M. Campbell, still going strong in pioneering in Peace River, William Brown of Steep Creek and for a time by Tom Manly, who was coming to take up his duties in Captain Moore's prospective mill. After passing Portage La Prairie we saw only one house McKinnon's about ten miles out, then no sign of habitation until we struck the Saskatchewan at Batoche. Here were a few log huts, the rendezvous of the hunters of the plains. Talking to some of these hunters, they told us the best hunting ground for buffalo was then between the rivers along the line of the present Prince Albert - Battleford line of railway. We found an abundance of small game and lived royally indeed during our six weeks jaunt across the prairies. Our caravan consisted of three carts drawn by oxen, a prairie schooner in which Mrs. Deacon and the two children mainly lived during those six weeks. We drove a small band of cattle. We experienced little difficulty as, profiting by the advice of an old traveller, I had provided a good length of stout rope and resorted to the expedient of doubling up with the team at the bad places. Coming to the ferry at Batoche, I was informed that the fee per animal was 25 cents and hastily computing that I had about twenty head, I gave the ferryman a five dollar bill. He then gave me leave to use the ferry if I was in any hurry to cross, explaining that there had just been a big kill and all hands were busy preparing for the customary feast. It would necessitate three or four trips to get us across, so we proceeded to drive on a couple of rigs and tie on some cows and set out. Glancing back when nearly over, what was our surprise to observe the bobbing heads of the stock who had not waited for transportation but were following their friends across the deep. Returning with the ferry I asked if I should not get back some money seeing that the stock had crossed themselves but received a very decisive "Nomonia, Nomonia" (No, No) and so the incident closed. On crossing we were very glad to meet Wm. McBeath, Mrs. Deacon's brother, who had a fresh team and hurried her off to the homes of her parents in "the Lower Flat". Two days later the rest of our party came to our journey's end at the home of Morrison McBeath. I took a farm nearby and was thus the third settler to locate in the Colleston district. We found the settlers now enjoying a real luxury in the form of flour then being gristed at Captain Moore's mill in the eastern end of the Prince Albert settlement. Hitherto they had used primitive windmills or steel crushers. In the fall of '74, Capt. Moore, becoming snowbound in this northland, wintered at the home of William Miller in east Prince Albert and, noting the lack of a flour mill and also that all lumber used in building had to be whipsawed, said to Mr. Miller, "I will go in and bring out a mill". He was as good as his word, returning in the autumn of '75 with millstones, boiler, etc. Accompanying Capt. Moore were Jack McKenzie, William Lyttle, Alex Louden and Thomas Miller. Others who later were attached to his staff were Daniel and John Shannon, mill wright and engineer; James Mack, miller; Alex Stuart, camp boss for many years.l Afterwards came Neil Sr., Joe Soles and many others. It was the brawn and muscle of all old time stronghearts that put Prince Albert on the map. Following the setting up of the mill, Prince Albert soon had a fair share of builders and contractors. There were Hurd and Baker, Goodfellow Bros., and Harry Peard whose brick may still be seen in some of the first buildings erected in Prince Albert.2 In the middle of '70's Prince Albert consisted of a number of narrow farms running back from the river from St. Mary's church in the west to Moore's mill which was on the site &127; Alex Stewart (according to McPhillips) 2 The first brick building in the NWT was built with brick made by Harry Peard in 1879 for T. E. Baker on River St. and 2nd Ave. E. recently vacated by the P.A. Lumber Co.3 There were two stores, that of Chas. Mair in the west end and the H. B. Co. in the east end. Seeing the need of a blacksmith shop, I went to Winnipeg in the fall of '77 and returning with a kit of tools, set up business in a shop rented from Chas. Mair. From this time, new arrivals in Prince Albert became so frequent that it would not be possible to enumerate them. Supplies for the settlement were brought from Winnipeg by Red River carts, our first travelling merchants being Betts4 and Gwynne,5 J. M. Campbell and Joe and Tom Davis.6 What of social life in our pioneer days? Ah! How many an old timer will agree with one that those were the days! The days of open handed hospitality when the stranger at the gates was received without question and treated to the best. Of course the dance was the only form of amusement for the long winter evenings. We didn't mind driving twenty miles to a dance. Just pile a feather bed and some buffalo robes into the bobsleigh along with the women folk and go to meet everyone in the settlement. There were no lines drawn - everybody welcome. And suppose our fiddler, becoming a bit weary, towards the wee, sma hours, should require to pause for a little refreshment. Did the dance Iag? Not at all. There was always someone on hand to whistle us a tune - reel, or jig or cotillion went merrily on. Our late lamented friend W. W. Clarke was always cheerfully willing to oblige with a tune. Refreshments? Oh, it was a land of plenty. Buffalo meat, sometimes as pemmican, deer meat, game birds, native fruits in preserves and drinks, all sorts of dainties, our women were good cooks. Yes, we like to think again over the good times of "the early days". In the fall of '79 I moved my family off the farm at Colleston, wishing to take advantage of Miss Lucy Baker's mission school. The next year we lived in a log building which is still standing, being one of F. Kisbey's group of buildings at the corner of River 3 East end of Prince Albert. a J. F. Betts was acting Mayor during the absence of Thomas McKay in 1885. He later served on the Northwest Legislative se,ssembly from 1888-1891.5 Gwynne was a prominent businessman. He supplied funds for the instruments for Prince Albert's first band in 1883. s T. O. Davis - Later Senator Davis. Street and First Avenue West. While living there I had Harry Peard make brick for and erect a building in East Prince Albert which was first used for hotel purposes and afterwards for the N.W.M.P. barracks. This building still stands.&127; In '81 and '82 settlers began to come in by the water route and I had a visit from my father, then a merchant in London, Ontario. Needless to say, he had an interesting tale to unfold to our wondering relatives "down east". With the influx of citizens, the shortage of places of business became strongly felt and a number of citizens, finding it a tiresome and lengthy proceeding to acquire property through the Hudson's Bay Land Department, left the East End and secured property through the efforts of the Presbyterian missionary, Rev. M. Sievewright's Thus the centre early became the business centre. About this time the east end citizens held a meeting in Garven's carpenter shop where we discussed the formation of a municipality for our end of the town. We met with considerable opposition from the H. B. Co., represented by the Hon. Laurence Clarke, who thought the time not ripe for organization. Continuing with our plan, we met with opposition also from "the Mission" as the centre was called and from the extreme west, known as "Porter town". East, west and centre not being able to agree as to divisions, we finally agreed to amalgamate and Prince Albert became a town. The only compromise for which we of the east end held out was the ward system - we sending Gus Bratnober as our first councillor but as west and centre combined against the east and east and centre combined against the west, the centre always held the balance of power - and so on to this day. In the spring of '81 the citizens of East P.A., then called Goschen after the Hudson's Bay Governor of that name - became anxious to have a school of their own, the younger children not being able to attend the mission school. As the results of a conference between Geo. Miller and myself, a meeting was called. William Miller, Geo. Miller and I were appointed trustees, J. R. McPhail, secretary-treasurer. We decided to erect a building and engage a teacher. The Hudson's Bay Co. gave us two lots as a donation and afterwards, through the good offices of the Honorable Lawrence Clarke, donated most generously toward its&127; No longer in existence. B Rev. Mr. Sievewright was in Prince Albert in 1880. maintenance. We purchased a set of logs and erected by our own volunteer labor, a building which was in use for some years after we had government schools. At the erection of the building the four corners were taken by Wm. Miller, Geo. Miller, Hugh Garven and myself. We were naturally quite proud of being the erectors of the first independent-school building between Winnipeg and the Rocky Mountains. When I look at the modern equipment of our present City Fire Hall, I think with some amusement of the way we fought fire in the early days. We had a volunteer fire brigade in the east end of which I had the honor to be Captain. Our equipment consisted of the wheels and axle of a Red River cart, a ladder about thirty feet in length attached thereto and a string of pails hanging from the ladder. When a fire broke out, we assembled in short order, formed a bucket line to the nearest available water supply, our chief concern being to prevent the spreading of the flames as we could not hope to extinguish a fire that had made any headway in our frame buildings. So much mention has been made in recent papers of the rebellion of '85 that it is unnecessary for me to go into details. Of course, as was natural, I tried to take my share of the responsibility - incident to the situation. When Colonel Sproat called for volunteers to go to Duck Lake I was the first man to fall in and give covering. When twenty-five others had fallen in the Colonel said, "That is enough. Fall out, Deacon. You are a drill and we need you here." I had to obey orders and so was not present at the Duck Lake fight. On the same afternoon, I was appointed O. C. of the Goschen detachment, consisting of forty men and remained in command until the disbanding of the volunteer forces. Having had some military experience in the Red River Expedition, I had much admiration for the spirit which animated the detachments on duty in Prince Albert at that trying time, every man quickly adapting himself to the exigencies of war time. Shortly after the rebellion passed over, hearing that there were large supplies of fish in the lakes to the north, I, in company with Wm. Lovel, went north about one hundred and twenty-five miles to Little Trout Lake to get fish for the community. We made a very good catch and Lovel remaining to continue the catch, I returned to town with two loads of fish which was, of course, consumed locally. This was the beginning of the fishing industry of Northern Saskatchewan. In the spring of '87, I was under contract with Moore and Macdowall to deliver their logs from the mouth of the Shell River to their mill in East P.A. The process of loading our skiffs on to a wagon every morning, driving up river till we came opposite the mouth of the Shell, then sending the team back while we crossed over, made our rafts and took them down the river, proved not only tedious but expensive. Not having a very satisfactory season, I decided that a steamboat would be better. Mr. Macdowall encouraged me in the idea. During 1888, with the aid of H. B. Garven, I built a boat, the machinery being partially secured from the company whose boats plied the river and partially purchased in Chicago and brought over from Winnipeg in carts. In the spring of 1888 we launched the steamer "Josie" and almost immediately commenced to haul logs. Then came a series of dry years, causing low water so there were short seasons for both steamer and mill. We turned her into a tender for hauling limestone and kept a supply of lime for our rapidly growing little town. Quite frequently, Sunday schools and Ladies' Aids enjoyed an excursion up or down the river in "The Josie". Later on, contracting with Wm. Cowan, to haul logs from the mouth of the Red to his mill, I built the "Pathfinder" a side wheeler of light draught and for a number of seasons worked for William Cowan to his entire satisfaction and to my profit. Telfer Bros. now operating the Macdowall mill, I built the steamer "Marion" and with the aid of my son, A. L. Deacon, kept both mills running until the destruction of the Telfer mill by fire. We then found ourselves with an idle craft and Prince Albert now absorbing much building material, I was seized with the idea of developing a large bed of brick clay some distance down the river. The Red Rock Brick and Pottery Co. was organized and I had the satisfaction of feeling that this industry had grown out of the infancy stage when Kaiser Bill began throwing his brick bats9 and mine had, per force, to give way. Now we are down to modern times. Indeed it is only on occasion that we old fellows give ourselves the luxury of looking back 9 "the good old times" for Prince Albert must look forward, not back. The men who saw Prince Albert grow from a mission in the wilderness were men of vision no less than the brave Dr. Nisbet whom all so truly revered. We of the old guard are passing out. To those who have taken up the work we would say in the words of Holy Writ "Quit ye like men. In these days, as of yore, there must be sacrifice of the individual if the community is to prosper. Personal inclination must often be overcome in the name of civic duty. Lethargy and indifference to public affairs on the part of our citizens cannot build the city of our dreams, our Queen city of the west, enthroned in the heart of its sheltering hills and enduring the weary traveller with that sense of rest and well being which was ours, who came so long ago - that feeling which finds outlet in glad words. "This is Home and here we will abide."
Captain R. Deacon of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, was a pioneer settler both in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. While a youth in the city of Montreal, he was a volunteer in repulsing the Fenian raids and when about twenty-one years of age he joined General Wolseley's volunteers to suppress the first Riel Rebellion. When the soldiers were disbanded he took up land in Manitoba and afterward embarked in the goldsmith's business in Winnipeg, being, a neighbor of J. H. Ashdown. In 1871 he married Mary McBeth, a daughter of two of the original Selkirk settlers. On the founding of a mission at Prince Albert by the Rev. Dr. Nisbett, this family of McBeths migrated to the banks of the Saskatchewan. The son-in-law accompanied them and took part in the pioneer life of the northern city. At this writing (1923) he is the only survivor of four men who stood at the four corners of the first little log schoolhouse erected in. the Northwest Territory. These men erected the building and hired a teacher in order to get some schooling for their children some years before the government schools were organized. Hearing that Louis Riel was inciting the Metis to rebellion the second time, Captain Deacon went boldly to their meeting and denounced Riel to his fare, telling him that he would not escape hanging this time and warning those present what they could expect if they followed Riel. He thus incurred the enmity of the rebels and was obliged to have police protection while trouble was brewing. During the period of the rebellion he was on milittiry duty with the rank of captain. After farming in the vicinity of Prince Albert for some years, Captain Deacon built and operated steam tugs on the river at Prince Albert, where the lumbering industry was growing to large proportions. Later he used thc tugs in developing the Red Rock Brick Company, a new, industry operating large clay beds down the river. He had the honor of being the first certificated captain on the Saskatchewan river and gave his son, A. A. Deacon, training along the same line. Captain A. A. Deacon now operates the Hudson's Bay Company's steamer running to Fort McPhersnn on the McKenzie. When Prince Albert became a city Captain Deacon was one of its first aldermen. After a lifetime of strenuous work in the great out-of-doors the captain is still (1923) a hale and vigorous man. He will shortly complete the duties on his second homestead. In September, 1921, he and Mrs. Deacon celebrated their golden wedding and had the pleasure of a visit from their granddaughter, who brought for their inspection a little great-grandson and great-granddaughter. Mrs. Johan Wilson, daughter of Captain R. Deacon, and wife of Colonel James Wilson, was interested and helped in the pioneer women suffrage work at Prince Albert and in organizing the provincial Equal Franchise League at Regina, in February, 1916. She had the honor of addressing the first public meeting held in Prince Albert to discuss equal franchise and afterward addressed meetings at Melfort and at Regina.